Last week I went to two events to help with my work in ministry. The first was Thursday night and was a presentation of a theologian who I have read and studied. It was a great discussion and essential for many present to introduce new ideas. However, having read the theologian’s latest book and even was on a retreat the week prior with one of the other theologians he referenced, I did not really learn anything new. I had a great time, and found it very helpful to reiterate some of the theories I am sharing with others.
The Friday night event I believe was much more essential for my work as a minister. It was the All Premiere performance of the Pacific Northwest Ballet Company (PNB). As a new minister in the area, I was excited to subscribe to this company’s 40th season, and delighted to realize that my favorite principal dancer from when I subscribed to the New York City Ballet Company years ago is now the artistic director of the PNB. So yes, I am passionate about ballet, but I have never danced. The first performance was Cinderella, and of course the curtain will soon reveal the Nutcracker, but I find All Premiere to be essential to me working on theology. Unlike the dances that follow stories I know so well, these new dances tell a new story, and some without a narrative.
The issue with being someone that studies and teaches about God, and thus theology--Godtalk, is that we are so often stuck in our head. You will hear pastors say the longest distance is the 18 inches between the head and the heart, which makes me think that even when we move our perspective to the metaphoric heart, we continue to see it through the head. I believe this is natural, not negative, but we need to relax into our Godtalk and feel it in the gut. I understand this may seem like semantics, and sure it is, but I find one of the best ways to practice this is in art, and for me it is ballet and dance. Music and human bodies cannot get more incarnational than that.
The All Premiere allowed me to feel the music in a wonderful way directed by the teachers which includes, the choreographer, the conductor, the dancers, and the musicians, (as well as numerous others, including the welcoming person at the customer service that helped with our seat upgrade). They did not tell me how to feel, what I was supposed to think, what the story was (if there was a narrative); they shared a vision of the music through the human body. My job was to relax and feel. They were all new dances, and two were even new music compositions, but I know that traditional movements were incorporated. I know enough to have even recognized some by name.
We need to share our faith more like the PNB shared the All Premiere, but more importantly, understand that even the educated and studied pastor or congregant must be able to relax into the mystical stance of the audience. Too often we are looking for an answer or a question, and not the experience that moves our gut to respond to what we do know, that the Divine is Love and we need to move and dance in that direction.